Iman Jodeh makes history as Colorado's first Muslim lawmaker
"In that moment, I was thinking about survival and protecting my mother," she recalls.
She was struck by a friend's response to her story. He said to her, "I find it curious that you'd prefer to live under occupation than live in the US as a citizen." She decided not to leave. Instead, she continued her work as an advocate and teacher.
"I looked around and saw I had an obligation to my community. I had an obligation to uplift communities with my experience in advocacy," she told The New Arab.
"We found ourselves in the same boat. We needed as many people to steer that boat toward justice as we could get. I think at that moment, looking at myself in the mirror after the election, I also knew that I had an obligation to the people of my community."
Raised by two politically minded Palestinian immigrant parents, Jodeh's advocacy began as a child, when she would encourage her school to recognise the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During the 1991 Gulf War, the family received threatening phone calls, but that didn't deter them from wanting to bridge gaps in the misunderstanding of Muslims and the Middle East.
|Many of the things Palestinians are experiencing are happening to marginalised communities in the US. This helps me be a better advocate for these folks|
When her father, who co-founded the Colorado Muslim Society, was having a hard time keeping up with speaking events, she stepped in and, as she puts it, "learned how to defend a fourth of the world's population against the actions of 19 individuals." She adds, "It was a natural fit for me."
She continued doing advocacy work in college and with her non-profit, Meet the Middle East, which she founded in 2008, whose mission is to bridge the misunderstanding between the US and a complex and consequential region.
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blue for Biden
When she became part of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, she says it put her "at the forefront of the fight for progressive policy, against bigoted and regressive policy." She also taught classes on Islam and Palestinian history at the University of Denver.
The next step in her advocacy work was to try to represent her district in the Colorado state house of representatives. Though she was coming from a largely Democratic district, she was ready for her Republican opponent to use her faith against her in the general election. In some ways, she had spent her entire life getting ready.
"I think the sad reality is we knew this would happen. We were prepared for it. I'm lucky to live in an area that's diverse," she says.
"I'm very grateful to my house district for not allowing hatred to dictate their values and their votes," says Jodeh, who beat her Republican opponent, Bob Andrews, a former schoolteacher and corrections officer, by 33 percentage points. For her, the real election fight was during her primary in the diverse and largely Democratic district 41 in Aurora.
She had been getting ready for the race since September 2019, which started with the outgoing representative endorsing her, as well as 40 other current and former elected officials. She also received the coveted endorsement of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose progressive leadership has paved the way for a new generation of grassroots candidates to break into politics.
|I'm very grateful to my house district for not allowing hatred to dictate their values and their votes|
In addition to strong support at the local, state and national levels, her historic victory has prompted messages of congratulations from around the world.
"I've received notes of support from Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Denmark, India, Bangladesh, Canada, and Brazil. It's been overwhelming," she says. "I think people are excited to see people like them getting elected. I think it's just one of those things. People are starting to breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe they're cautiously optimistic that our community is positioning ourselves to be positive influencers."
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She attributes her dedication to advocacy and now politics in large part to her Palestinian roots. "I think when you belong to a group of people who have known occupation for the past 70 years, your lens is different," she says.
"I think because of those things, it has positioned me to be a better advocate. Unfortunately, many of the things Palestinians are experiencing are happening to marginalised communities in the US. This helps me be a better advocate for these folks."
As she looks ahead to starting her new term, she says she already knows that she will follow a "collaborative model" and an "open door policy" in which she leans on experts for guidance on voting and drafting legislation. Looking back, even with all of her advocacy work, she says she never expected to be in her new role.
"Every time I was in that gold dome state capitol building it was because I felt I needed to be," she says. "I never pictured myself in one of those green chairs. I just thought it was important that the people of Colorado had a voice."
Brooke Anderson is a freelance journalist covering international politics, business and culture
Follow her on Twitter: @Brookethenews